ND student creates digital textbook marketplace
Christopher Parker | Monday, February 10, 2020
Sophomore Jacob Novitch had a problem he didn’t know what to do with: his almost brand-new copy of “Theological Foundations for Environmental Ethics.”
“I had gotten this book last semester, and I was unable to rent it,” Novitch said. “I just kind of had it, and I didn’t need it anymore.”
While the Hammes Notre Dame Bookstore offers a renting option for some textbooks, many students find themselves stuck with a textbook they no longer need after the semester finishes.
Novitch’s close friend and roommate, sophomore Ryan Wigglesworth, recently started a project creating an on-campus network for buying and selling textbooks. Wigglesworth said the idea was inspired by his own frustrations with buying textbooks.
“Last winter break, when I was at home with my parents, we were looking for ways to save money,” he said. “They wanted me to sell my textbooks on an ND mobile service.”
Wigglesworth created a survey that canvassed students across the country and received 160 responses, about half from Notre Dame and half from other schools.
“I figured if I had this problem then other people probably would, too,” Wigglesworth said.
Wigglesworth said his survey showed that people spend an average of around $520 a year on their textbooks. In fact, the average cost of books per year at a private four-year university is $1,240, according to research from the College Board. The University of Notre Dame factors a slightly lower $1,050 into its 2019-2020 cost of attendance.
“I learned that there’s kind of a huge need for it. About half the people who responded have tried to sell textbooks, but only half of those actually succeed,” he said. “I figured I could maybe make this more efficient.”
With money from the IDEA Center, Wigglesworth created a prototype version of this service, called BookSwap.
“Basically, anyone can go on and post their books, and then if somebody else wants to buy it, they can buy it off the site,” he said. “It’s kind of like Craigslist for college.”
Wigglesworth launched the service this past fall semester to some success.
“I had about 50 postings up there, and five people were able to make sales,” he said, including Novitch, who parted ways with his theology textbook recently.
Wigglesworth realized through the launch that quite a few students were willing to sell their textbooks but don’t simply because there isn’t an efficient method to do so.
“You can sell back to Amazon … or you can sell back to the bookstore,” Wigglesworth said. “But the value isn’t great for people, and they would rather see if they could sell to a friend. They feel better about it, and they get a better price.”
Wigglesworth believes that the bookstore’s advantage lies in the fact that “it’s easy, and that’s what people like.” He aims to make his service even easier by making it local, with different branches on different campuses.
Novitch said he would use the service again not only because it earned him a little extra money, but because he could feel good about the fate of a retired schoolbook.
“I hadn’t really thought about what I was going to do with it,” he said. “I just figured somebody else would have more use for it than I did.”